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In recent weeks, White House aides have left the very strong impression that President Obama wouldn't approve any short-term extension of the debt ceiling just for the sake of avoiding default on Aug 2 or shortly thereafter.
The aim of that warning seemed to be the president's intention to avoid prolonging the debt-ceiling debate any longer than needed. The risks created for the U.S. and global economies by a continuing threat of a U.S. default are just too great.
It also was Obama's way of trying to force the issue since he knows that Congress is often paralyzed by partisan bickering unless some impending emergency forces lawmakers to focus.
On Wednesday, a White House aide sent a somewhat modified signal that an extension might be acceptable to the president under certain conditions.
If White House and congressional negotiators were to reach a deal to extend the debt limit past the 2012 elections and to significantly reduce deficits, the president would be willing to budge, White House press secretary Jay Carney indicated.
That theoretically would allow the debt ceiling to be raised enough so the U.S. Treasury could finance the nation's operations past Aug. 2. That's the day when the administration says it will run out of accounting tricks it's been using for weeks.
On Wednesday following his daily briefing in which he was questioned about the possibility of a presidentially sanctioned extension, Carney issued a statement clarifying comments he made during the session on what it would take for the president to agree to a stopgap:
"The President does not support a short-term extension of the debt limit, period. The only exception to that is in the event that both sides reach a deal on a long-term extension of the debt limit plus significant deficit reduction, and we needed a very short-term extension (like a few days) to allow a bit of extra time for a bill to work its way through the legislative process."
So the president isn't absolutely against an extension. But like a demanding college professor, he's not going to make it easy to get one.
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